South Sister St. Marys, Tasmania

SOS to go to Hearing early October

In late August, the barristers acting pro-bono for SOS (James Johnson and Roland Browne) met with the experts and applicants and visited the site. The legal team reviewed the evidence from both parties and suggested a different approach to the hearing.

SOS has always argued that there is inadequate understanding of groundwater systems and Forestry Tasmania should thoroughly assess the risks to local water supplies before logging South Sister. Unfortunately, the Environmental Management and Pollution Control Act 1994 (EMPCA) places a high burden of proof on the applicants to show that harvesting will cause environmental harm, rather than on FT to show that it will not. Having regard to all the evidence, the current lack of information about the groundwater system and the cost of undertaking necessary studies, it will be very difficult for the applicants to prove harm. Therefore, while we remain concerned about the impact of forestry operations on the quality and quantity of our water supplies, we decided not to pursue these issues at the Tribunal and to concentrate on the demonstrable risk of landslip.

So where is SOS now?
The case will now focus on the significant risk of landslip both on and off the coupe if harvesting goes ahead. Despite FT's claims that the risk is negligible, experts for SOS argue strongly that landslide activity is likely if FT log the coupe as planned. Landslip activity could impact on visual amenity, water supplies, block access roads and require extensive rehabilitation work to stabilise the site.

After the exchange of expert evidence on 12 September, FT suggested mediation to discuss the issues concerning the applicants. The mediation (to be supervised by the Tribunal) was scheduled to occur last Friday (September 23, 2005). The applicants hoped that a compromise could be reached, excluding high risk areas from harvesting as a precautionary approach. However, on Thursday afternoon FT cancelled the mediation and indicated that they were not prepared to exclude any further areas from harvest. Therefore, the matter will proceed to hearing next week (starting October 3) as planned.

Due to the reduced grounds of application, the hearing is now unlikely to take the 5 days set aside. The starting date is Monday October 3, but it is yet uncertain whether the hearing will begin in Hobart and conclude with a site visit or whether, after an introduction in Hobart on the Monday, the Hearing will adjourn to South Sister to inspect the coupe before resuming in Hobart on Tuesday and Wednesday. The general public is welcome and SOS is hoping for a full house so please come if you are able - for a few hours, a day or if possible the entire sitting. Please check this website for a final update about location and times/dates.

The Hearing will be held at the Resource Management and Planning Appeals Tribunal, 1st Floor, 141-148 Macquarie St, Hobart.

In preparation for the hearing, a stall will be held at the Parliament Lawns on Saturday October 1, 2005 from 10:30am to 2:00pm. Stickers, t-shirts, pens and postcards will be available.
If anyone is available to help please email us.
A vigil may be also held (supported by Wilderness Society) starting Sunday October 2 (yet to be confirmed).

Our situation also highlights deficiencies in the legislation, which places the burden of proof on the people who will be impacted, not those doing the activity. This is an unreasonable situation and we hope something can be done to reverse the onus and require proponents like FT to demonstrate that their activities will not cause environmental harm.

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